Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Reading Year in Review 2016: The Numbers, The Best, The Honorable Mentions

My perception of my reading year that was 2016 is that it was fairly dismal.  Very few books seemed to engage me to the point of Stay Up All Night To Read, Go To Work a Zombie the Next Day.  It took me weeks to finish some titles, and very little seemed to excite me.  But perception, it's a funny thing.  When I took a look at my GoodReads account (which is how I track all my reading these days) - outside of my A grades taking a nose dive from the previous year (I read 10 A graded books in 2015!), the numbers were really consistent from years past.

My goal every year is to read 100 books, and for the second year in a row - I fell short, stumbling over the finish line at 81 books.

A Grades = 4
B Grades (includes high B-) = 29
C Grades (includes low B-) = 30
D Grades = 7
DNF/Unrated = 10 DNFs, 1 Unrated
Audio Books = 33 

Thanks to a long commute and my desire to stay away from inane DJ/radio chatter as much as humanly possible - audio books made up nearly 41% of my total reading in 2016. 

Yeah, yeah - numbers blah, blah, blah.  What about the good stuff, Wendy?  What books did you love in 2016?  So glad you asked!  Here are the highlights:

Author Of The Year: Simone St. James

I have never, in all my years of blogging, named an "Author of the Year."  So why am I doing it for 2016?  Because I literally tore through St. James entire backlist (only 5 books, but still!) thanks to the wonders of audio (all quite good - produced by Blackstone Audio) and they all fell within my B Grade range.  Keeping that in mind (they were all B's! they were all good!), here they are in my order of favorite to not-as-favorite:

Silence for the Dead (2014) - Desperate heroine falsifies a nursing background to take a job at a remote hospital that treats World War I veterans with "shell shock."  A former private estate, the hospital has a dark history that is haunting the dreams of the patients.

The Other Side of Midnight (2015) - Medium heroine is called to investigate the murder of a famous psychic, and former friend, and is reunited with the man who discredited her own abilities.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare (2012) - Heroine working as a temp hires on with a ghost hunter to investigate the ghost of a young woman terrorizing a small English village.

An Inquiry Into Love and Death (2013) - Modern heroine (she's a college student!) finds herself traveling to a remote English village after her uncle dies to settle his affairs.  Turns out he was a ghost hunter and there are strange doings afoot.

Lost Among the Living (2016) - After her husband is killed in World War I, the heroine goes to work for his aunt as a paid companion and soon learns there was much about her husband that she never knew.

The Best of the Best (The A Grades)

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt (2016) was marketed as historical fiction, but features a very strong romance.  Doctor heroine is accused of murdering the husband of one of her society lady patients, and circumstances determine the best course of action is to flee - which she does, heading west and ultimately landing in a remote Army outpost in Colorado.  It's there she falls in love with a handsome Army captain and her past catches up to her.  Caveats being: it doesn't stand alone (book two is due out in May 2017), there's some ugly history, and quite a bit of violence (secondary characters die, there's a brutal Indian raid scene, and there's a rape - so....yeah.)  But this book riveted me in a way no other book did in 2016 and the romance totally blew up my skirt.

I dug out Curveball by Charlotte Stein (2013) for the TBR Challenge and this erotic romance novella (roughly 85 pages) was just what the doctor ordered.  Plump "nobody" heroine finds herself in the cross-hairs of her brother's loud, boisterous BFF - a more mismatched pair you'll never meet.  The anticipation in this story, the passion - it was light years ahead of any other erotic romance I read last year.  

2016 will likely go down as The Year of the Gothic for me (see: Simone St. James) as I also took time to reacquaint myself with some Barbara Michaels.  I started with Be Buried in the Rain (1985) only remembering that "I really liked it" when I first read it some 25+ years ago.  This one is still a gem.  Heroine returns to the crumbling family plantation to care for her sour, ailing grandmother and is reunited with a former lover, conducting an archaeological dig on her family's land.  Great atmosphere, compelling mystery, an independent heroine and a strong romance.

The Way Home by Megan Chance (1997) was another book I dug out thanks to the TBR Challenge and this historical western knocked my socks off.  After the travelling gambler who got her pregnant refuses to marry her, the heroine instead marries his quiet, shy brother - and that's when the romance begins.  Heartbreaking, emotional, satisfying on so many levels.

Honorable Mentions, or The Best of the Rest

The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward (2015) is the first book in a series about a family that made their fortune in Kentucky bourbon.  To be honest, this one didn't work one whit for me as a romance but boy howdy - it's everything I have ever wanted in a unrepentant, trashy soap opera.   Double-dealing, back-stabbing, and more skeletons in closets than you can shake a femur at.  This is Grade A Beach Read material all the way.

Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen (2015) is a stand-alone time slip thriller, with part of the story taking place in World War II era Italy, and the other in present day Boston.  When the violinist heroine fears her toddler daughter has become possessed by a piece of music she brought home from a work trip to Italy, she sets out to uncover the story behind the manuscript.  Quiet, haunting, and heartbreaking.

The Blacksmith's Wife
by Elisabeth Hobbes (2016) features a heroine with designs to marry a handsome traveling knight but settles for his blacksmith half-brother instead.  I'm not going to lie, the lack of communication between the couple did wear me down a bit by the end, but there was a great feel for the medieval time period, a wonderfully yummy hero and a heroine forced to face the reality of her limited options. 

All I Am by Nicole Helm (2016) features a socially awkward wounded warrior hero and a party girl heroine aimlessly drifting through her life.  I'm a sucker for virgin hero and "bad girl" heroine pairings in romances, and Helm has written a charming one.  

And those were my highlights in reading for 2016.  It wasn't the best reading year on record for me, and I struggled to find my mojo all year long, but there were still plenty of highlights to be found. Now it's onward and upward into 2017.


the passionate reader said...

I love that Stein book. Her thoughts are just the best.

Rosie said...

I love your year end summaries. I always find a couple things to try.

nath said...

Happy New Year Wendy!! All the best for 2017!

I hear you. The last couple of years fell flat for me, book-wise. I'm hoping 2017 will be great.

Nice list of books :) The only one I read is The Other Side of Midnight. Hey, it's rare now that a book makes you head for the backlist. So if that's the case, Simone St. James deserves author of the year :P

Jazz Let said...

I too am finding reading a problem, I probably have twenty plus unfinished books, not bad books, some definitly good books, it's just I get to a point of danger and can't go on. Hopefully this will resolve for me and both you and Nath will find your reading mojo again this year!

Wouldn't normally bother on nitpicking as I'm too prone to errors myself, but in the precis of The Blacksmith's Wife you have her marrying 'HER half-brother'!

Wendy said...

Dabney: I tend to love Stein's shorts and this one was a gem...especially after I had already DNF'ed my first choice for the TBR Challenge that month!

Rosie: ::tackles, hugs the stuffing out of Rosie::

Nath: Gothics are like comfort food for me. They were my reading poison of choice when I was a teen so I feel very nostalgic about them. St. James was quite a find for me in 2016!

Jazz: Ha ha ha ha! Yes, that is a mighty unfortunate typo!!! Thank you for pointing it out and I've corrected it. Because wow - HER half-brother would be quite a different story. Yikes.

loseydoris said...

I really enjoyed the books Rocky Mountain search and rescue series by Katie Ruggle as well as anything by Tessa Dare, Mary Balogh, and Carla Kelly. I was disappointed in Nora Robert's hardback
THE OBSESSION but thought Jayne Ann Krentz's WHEN ALL THE GIRLS ARE GONE was particularly well done.

S. said...

Wendy, I love these kinds of posts, I always find interesting things I could try and it's always fun to see what others liked/preferred!

Jazz Let said...

:) I was a more than a bit surprised until I worked it out!

Wendy said...

Loseydoris: I have the first in the Ruggle series languishing in my digital TBR and I am so grossly behind on Tessa Dare I think I need to move her into audiobook listening just so I can catch up!

I also read The Obsession by Roberts and just found it OK. I loved the premise but all the romance-y, remodeling p0rn felt like filler to me and the whodunit was telegraphed way too early on. Oh well.

I've heard good things about that Krentz. I really need to pick that one up.

Wendy said...

Sonia: I love year end recap posts for the same reason! I'm always interested in seeing what everybody else loved.